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COP26 – A Brief Review and Analysis

Photo by Caleb Jones on Unsplash

17th November 2021

Over the last two weeks, 120 world leaders alongside 40,000 people from governments, business, civil society and social movements have gathered in Glasgow for the COP26 climate summit. Expectations were high for Glasgow, with the 1.5C 2015 Paris target in the balance.

The first week of the summit saw a flurry of announcements including:

  • 130 countries agreed to halt deforestation by 2030
  • 40 countries agreed to end their reliance on coal
  • 90 countries pledged to cut their methane emissions
  • India pledged to go net zero by 2070
  • The IEA estimated warming would reach 1.8C based on these new commitments

As press release statements, these sounded good. However, in reality some of these pledges were less firm than they sounded. It became questionable whether all participants were indeed committed to the pledges they made, or whether this was just more greenwashing.

Week 2 – Reality Check

The idea that the world had already done enough to drop warming estimates to 1.8C were shattered early in the second week. Climate Action Tracker released a review which showed that we were actually on track for 2.4C of warming, based on commitments for the next decade leading up to 2030. This level of warning takes us well into the danger zone and runs the risk of us surpassing climate tipping points.

However things are worse if you look at existing policies, which if left as they are will take us even further into the red. According to Climate Action Tracker, “Policy implementation on the ground is advancing at a snail’s pace. Under current policies, we estimate end-of-century warming to be 2.7°C.”

Another major area of contention was the changing of the phrasing around coal. According to the Guardian, “One of the fiercest disagreements in the final hours was over the wording of an intention to abandon coal, which was watered down from a “phase-out” to a “phase-down”.” Opposition to phasing out coal came from countries such as South Africa, India and China. To put the enormity of the situation around coal into context, the Guardian writes that, “Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, told the Guardian that more than 40% of the world’s existing 8,500 coal plants would have to close by 2030, and no new ones could be built, to stay within the limit.”

In terms of finance, the $100b a year commitment made by developed countries to help developing countries adopt renewable and clean energy will only be in place from 2023 – three years later than planned. In regards to finance for coping with climate disasters in developing countries, only $2m is available.

In quite a stunning revelation, it was found that over 500 fossil fuel lobbyists were in attendance at COP26 – more people than in any other single national delegation. How can we bring about change, when those that are the source of the problem hold such a massive sway over the negotiations?

COP26 – Failure of Success?

Many people doubted COP26 would succeed and it’s questionable that it has. That being said, it hasn’t been the complete failure that many thought it would be, thereby avoiding a repeat of Copenhagen in 2009.

The Glasgow Climate Pact has seen some breakthroughs, including that the world has come to accept the 1.5C target as something we need to achieve. Carbon Brief has done an in-depth overview of this, which you can read here. Yet we’re currently well off track and it will require a monumental global effort to put us back onto that pathway, which hasn’t happened at COP26. Some people therefore believe that the next 18 months will be “make or break” for the 1.5C target. This means a lot of pressure on COP27, which takes place in Egypt next year.

Where to Now?

Without firm agreements in place, the can of climate action has been kicked down the road. Our future now rattles along with it. What has become clear is that we don’t have time for political incompetence, rhetoric or servitude to the fossil fuel interests that line their pockets and help them get elected. The age of ‘blah blah blah’ must end. We are still hurtling towards climate tipping points, which could result in irreversible changes that bring about the collapse of civilisation as we know it.

But perhaps we’re also on the verge of a civil tipping point, which will see ordinary people rise-up against the forces that have hampered action. George Monbiot is calling on us to mobilise 25% of the population, which may be enough to spur leaders to act. People power is essential in this fight, given the fossil fuel interests we’re up against. Meanwhile Greta Thunberg and youth activists have petitioned the UN to declare a level 3 “system-wide climate emergency”.

Our collective future depends on a big push from all of us. It will involve sacrifices of time and energy. But history is calling on us to act, and we must answer the call. For to ignore it, is to condemn all future generations to climate chaos.

Published inThe Climate Crisis